Schoen­bauers cel­e­brate 25 years mak­ing saw­dust

Char­lotte Hall shop’s legacy ex­tends back to 19th cen­tury

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

The Schoen­bauers are cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of saw­dust and the smells of tur­pen­tine, stains and var­nishes this year. The St. Mary’s fam­ily busi­ness, Schoen­bauer Fur­ni­ture Ser­vice in Char­lotte Hall, is cel­e­brat­ing its sil­ver an­niver­sary, though the fam­ily’s in­volve­ment with wood fur­ni­ture goes back fur­ther than that.

Carl Schoen­bauer brought his cab­i­net mak­ing skills with him from Ger­many when he im­mi­grated to the United States in 1896. He passed those wood­work­ing skills down to his son, Wil­liam Fran­cis Schoen­bauer, and those skills are still be­ing passed down to­day to still more gen­er­a­tions.

“He re­ally wasn’t a fur­ni­ture re­storer, but a cab­i­net builder,” Bill (Wil­liam Fran­cis III) Schoen­bauer said of his great-grand­fa­ther. “His son, my grand­fa­ther — he died when I was 2 — re­ally started with the fur­ni­ture restora­tion and that’s what my dad did. That’s what we’re do­ing now.”

Bill Schoen­bauer started the cur­rent fur­ni­ture restora­tion busi­ness with his wife, Deb­bie, in 1991 — she died a year and a half ago — af­ter ap­pren­tic­ing un­der his fa­ther, Fran­cis Wil­liam Schoen­bauer Jr., for more than 13 years. That busi­ness was F.W. Schoen­bauer Re­pair, which con­tin­ued un­til 2000 when the el­der Schoen­bauer de­cided to close up shop and work for his son, leav­ing him more time to spend with his wife, Pauline, who also be­gan help­ing in the son’s of­fice un­til Alzheimer’s made it im­pos­si­ble. He died in 2013 at the age of 81, and Pauline fol­lowed him a year later.

“He was work­ing full time up un­til about two weeks be­fore he passed away. We had to drag him out of here to the hospi­tal,” his granddaughter, Katie Mor­gan, said. She’s been work­ing in the busi­ness for 10 years, tak­ing over of­fice and book­keep­ing du­ties when her mother died. She also han­dles com­mer­cial ac­counts and what­ever else comes along.

Bill Schoen­bauer, re­count­ing a stor y that cap­tured his dad’s work ethic, said that three years be­fore his death he had cut off part of three fin­gers — the first such in­jury in all his years — on a ta­ble saw but couldn’t stay away from work, even at the age of 78.

“He was lit­er­ally back to work the next day. He had this huge mitt [of gauze] on his hand and it was all com­pletely cov­ered in [wood] stain. I think he even caught it on fire once,” he said with a laugh, fondly re­mem­ber­ing his fa­ther. “He was def­i­nitely from that [older] gen­er­a­tion. He was a hard worker and, re­ally, so ded­i­cated to the busi­ness. He was great for these young guys to see as an ex­am­ple. He could do any­thing — he got all the hard jobs. We cer­tainly miss him.”

The cur­rent busi­ness in­cludes Ge­orge­town Refin­ish­ing and An­tique Restora­tion of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which was pur­chased in 2007 and was brought to the Char­lotte Hall shop.

“Most of their work was in North­west Wash­ing­ton [D.C.], Ar­ling­ton [Va.] and Bethesda,” Schoen­bauer said. “They had a re­ally nice rep­u­ta­tion for their up­hol­stery work. They worked with a lot of dec­o­ra­tors and de­sign­ers. That part of the com­pany does a lot of the an­tique restora­tion.”

Schoen­bauer Fur­ni­ture Ser­vice started out with at least 75 per­cent of its busi­ness from mov­ing claims — dam­age to fur­ni­ture dur­ing a move — but has since seen a shift to res­i­den­tial and pri­vate trade work which now makes up 50 per­cent of the work for its 20 em­ploy­ees. The com­pany’s ser­vice area is most of Mary­land and parts of North­ern Vir­ginia, though a lot of work comes from the Wash­ing­ton metropoli­tan area.

“It seemed like when­ever we went out and han­dled the mov­ing claims, cus­tomers were al­ways in­tro­duc­ing us to more work,” Schoen­bauer said. “So we started do­ing more of what we call res­i­den­tial or pri­vate trade work — refin­ish­ing and re­pair work.”

“We also han­dle in­sur­ance claims now and we do com­mer­cial work for law firms, restau­rants, of­fice build­ings and things like that,” Mor­gan added. “I feel like com­mer­cial, the in­sur­ance claims and the mov­ing all make up the rest of the 50 per­cent.”

Along with the fur­ni­ture, the Schoen­bauers oc­ca­sion­ally land an un­usual job, like the one the shop is fin­ish­ing up for the His­toric Korean Le­ga­tion Mu­seum on Lo­gan Circle in the Dis­trict. The 1877 build­ing is be­ing re­stored back to its orig­i­nal look and the St. Mary’s shop is restor­ing and re­build­ing the win­dow shut­ters — all 300 of them.

“All these shut­ters are be­ing re­stored. Some of them have pieces miss­ing and some are dam­aged be­yond re­pair so we’re mak­ing new ones to match the ex­ist­ing shut­ters,” said man­ager Tony Chaf­fee, who has worked at Schoen­bauer Fur­ni­ture Ser­vice for nearly 19 years.

Cur­rently, Bill and his brother, Mike, son-in-law, Jon DePompa, and Mor­gan work in the fam­ily busi­ness. Mike’s son, Mikey, has been in­tern­ing this sum­mer.

“We’ve en­joyed it,” Bill Schoen­bauer said. “I’d like to see the fam­ily stay in­volved, if that’s what they want to do.”

STAFF PHOTOS BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Schoen­bauer Fur­ni­ture Ser­vice owner Bill Schoen­bauer, left, his daugh­ter, Katie Mor­gan, and brother, Mike Schoen­bauer, stand with a piece of fur­ni­ture that un­der­went restora­tion in the Char­lotte Hall shop. The busi­ness is cel­e­brat­ing 25 years and car­ry­ing on the legacy of five gen­er­a­tions of Schoen­bauers, start­ing with Fran­cis Wil­liam Schoen­bauer Sr., who was a cab­i­net­maker.

Schoen­bauer Fur­ni­ture Ser­vice man­ager Tony Chaf­fee works on re­plac­ing an an­tique pane of glass in a cab­i­net door. The Char­lotte Hall busi­ness is cel­e­brat­ing 25 years.

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